Indian spices: a history
Throughout history, spices have played an important role in the Indian subcontinent
Spices are an integral part of food. In fact, it's hard to imagine food without them. Whenever somebody hears the word "spices", the other word that comes to their mind is "India".
Somebody once said, "Indian cooking without Indian spices is like baking a cake without sugar!".
Spices are synonymous with India not only because they shape Indian food, but because they have shaped India's history.
Spices and their value
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Indian spices had enormous value in the Middle Ages. The star of the show at that time was pepper. Black pepper is also regarded as "black gold" due to its heavy demand.
It is also said that one sack of pepper was said to be worth a man's life! But it was not just pepper that was so valuable. In the Middle Ages, one pound of ginger was worth a sheep – and one pound of mace was worth three sheep, or half a cow. WOW.
Spices were in great demand to preserve the flavor of food due to the lack of refrigeration and cold storage.
India as a complete package
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But not all the spices were grown in India. Long pepper, turmeric and different types of cardamom was found in India initially. Then, mace and nutmeg were brought from Indonesia, and coriander saffron and fenugreek were brought from West Asia to be grown in India. As a result, traders thought of India as the complete package. Hence, India was also known as "Sone ki Chididya" (The Golden Bird).
India, Spices and Trade
As soon as the news of availability of spices spread across the world, people boarded their ships and set sail to India. Even Vasco Da Gama came to India for spices. After Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese expedition led by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1501 brought spices from India to Europe for the first time through the Cape of Good Hope. What followed was that over half of the revenues of the Portuguese government came from West African gold and Indian spices.
In the 1580s the monopoly shifted to Venice, and in the 17th century it all came in the hands of the Dutch. Then, the British colonized India for spices – and what happened next? You must have learned that in your history class.